An account of the genealogy of Jesus the Messiah, the son of David, the son of Abraham. Abraham was the father of Isaac, and Isaac the father of Jacob, and Jacob the father of Judah and his brothers, and Judah the father of Perez and Zerah by Tamar, and Perez the father of Hezron…
Warning! What follows might well be the strangest devotional you will ever read, and an R-rated one at that! But, it is yet one more story of God’s amazing grace. I was not told the story in Sunday School, and you likely have never heard a sermon on it. It is a sleazy story like one might read in some trashy tabloid. It is an appalling story about my not favorite person in the Bible: Judah.
It is Judah, after all, who hatches the plot to sell his younger brother Joseph into slavery for twenty pieces of silver (Genesis 37:26-30). Judah is the great-grandson of Abraham, but wants no part in the family God chose to bless the world (Genesis 12:1-3). Rather, Judah abandons his family to live as a pagan Canaanite, so that the family of Abraham is in a mess, seemingly beyond redemption.
When Judah’s son, Er, dies, struck down by God for his wickedness (Genesis 38:7), Judah abandons his son’s widow, Tamar. Without any means of support, the widowed Tamar disguises herself as a prostitute with whom Judah has sex. When Tamar becomes pregnant, Judah threatens to kill her, saying, “Bring her out, and let her be burned” (Genesis 38:24b).
But when Tamar identifies herself as that prostitute, Judah grudgingly admits Tamar “is more right than I” (Genesis 38:26). From their illicit union Tamar gives birth to twin sons, Perez and Zerah. Nothing more is told us about the life of Judah, except that, years later, we learn he is repentant and offers his life as ransom for his brother Benjamin (Genesis 44:18-34).
That is the sad story of Judah! But it is a story proving yet again “where sin increased, grace abounded all the more” (Romans 5:20). God remembers Judah in the light of grace. God’s indomitable purpose is to bless the world through Abraham’s family. Judah is a man who has sinned greatly and been greatly forgiven, so that in spite of himself he is prophesied to the role of royalty in Israel: “the scepter shall not depart from Judah, nor the staff from between his feet” (Genesis 49:10).
So, it is Judah’s descendants chosen to lead Israel’s march through the Wilderness to the Promised Land. Then from Judah’s family there comes the great King David, all future royalty, and even Messiah Jesus! Scripture tells us that saints and angels will for all eternity worship Jesus as “the Lion of the Tribe of Judah” (Revelation 5:5). Yes! The Tribe of the tragic Judah!
The scripture at the top of the page is taken from the opening words of the New Testament containing the genealogy of Messiah Jesus. Here we read that Jesus traces His line back to Judah, Tamar, and Perez. By His grace the Son of God claims them as His family, and is “not ashamed to call them brothers and sisters” (Hebrews 2:11). Yes, that includes Tamar who disguised herself as a prostitute, and son Perez, born of her sin with a debauched Judah. Jesus remembers Himself as part of the Perez branch of His family tree.
So today, I find myself powerfully drawn to one of the Bible’s more ugly stories. I read this story as I have not read it before. I read it reminded to always look for God at work in all the ugly stories of our lives and our families’. God does not work only when we are at our best, but also works when we are at our worst.
I bookmark today’s story as God’s reminder that there are no lives too sinful, too wasted, but God can redeem them. For God is the great “Dumpster Diver” plunging headlong into our messes to work them for good according to His gracious purpose (Romans 8:28).
I am eagerly looking forward to meeting Judah in heaven, along with Tamar and Perez. They are fellow travelers! Their miserable story encourages and gives me hope in God’s not-to-be-defeated saving power!
A fellow traveler,